Has anyone ever asked you a question that there just wasn’t any way to answer it without getting yourself into trouble? That’s what we call a loaded question. A loaded question is one that is worded so that a person cannot answer it without appearing to be guilty.
Here are a couple of examples of loaded questions:
• Have you quit cheating at cards? If you answer, “Yes” you are admitting that you used to cheat. If you answer, “No” you are admitting that you still cheat.
• Do you still pick on your little brother? That is like the other question. You are either going to admit that you used to pick on your brother or that you still pick on him.
Sometimes a loaded question is asked to try to trick a person into saying something that will get them into trouble. Matthew 22:15-22 is a good example of that situation.
Jesus was gaining great popularity among the Israelites. This was very upsetting to the Pharisees. They thought He was a threat to their authority. They tried everything they could think of to make Jesus look bad and yet Jesus had more and more followers every day. So, a group of Pharisees met and came up with a plot to trick Jesus into saying something that would discredit Jesus among his followers.
The people in Jesus’ day were required to pay taxes to the Roman government. That was not popular with the people. The plan was to go to Jesus and ask him his opinion about paying the taxes. So, they sent their disciples, with a few of Herod’s followers mixed in and asked him, “Teacher, we know how honest you are. You teach the way of God truthfully. Now tell us what you think about this: Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” They were actually trying to trick Jesus, because they knew if he said, “Yes,” the people would be angry. But if he said, “No,” he would get into trouble with the Roman authorities.
Jesus saw right through their plan and He did a wise thing. He asked them for a coin, then He said, “Whose picture is on this coin?”
They answered, “It is Caesar.” Caesar was the Roman ruler and all taxes had to be paid to him.
Jesus then said to them, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and give to God what belongs to God.”
But what about God? Jesus also said, “Give to God what belongs to God.” The Bible says that we were created by God and that we were created in the image of God. If we are created by God, and we were created in His image, we must belong to Him. That means we must give ourselves to Him!
The Pharisees wanted Him to say something like God is more important than the emperor, religion is more important than the empire. They wanted Him to put these two spheres of authority in competition and declare a winner so that the other side can be mad. For Jesus, God and the emperor are so far apart that this competition is meaningless. We can give to governments the things that belong to them not because God has nothing to do with them, but because God’s authority doesn’t need governments to work.
The Herodians were Jews who supported King Herod’s dynasty and therefore tolerated their Roman overlords better than the common people in Israel did. Although they were on the opposite side of the political and religious spectrum, they joined forces with the Pharisees because both groups saw Jesus as a threat. They chose the question about paying taxes to Caesar because they believed that no matter how Jesus answered, He would alienate either the Jewish listeners, who hated the tax, or the Romans, who supported the tax.
While their question was clever, Jesus recognized their wickedness and hypocrisy. He knew that they were not looking for the truth but were merely seeking a means to destroy Him. The word “render” means “to give back”-implying that believers are responsible to respect and obey governments as well as God. All governments are in power by the authority of God and should be obeyed unless their edicts contradict the Word of God.
Jesus’ comparison of our responsibilities to God with our responsibilities to governments centres on the nature of power and allegiance. Government power is coercive and temporal. It can dominate our lives, but it is only temporary. It deserves appropriate respect in the political and government sphere, but it is limited and part of God’s larger world.
With His proclamation, Jesus acknowledges that God’s law allows what is printed on our currency to be given back to the government, but Jesus also insists that it be done in the ultimately more important context of giving what is imprinted with God’s image back to Him. We were created in God’s image, and Jesus calls on us to return to God all that we are and all that we have been given. We can give the government what it is owed in taxes, but that is the extent of what we owe to it. On the other hand, there is no limit on what is due to God since everyone and everything belongs to God.
The problem is that we don’t live as if this is true. We make giving to the government and to everyone else a priority, and God gets the leftovers. So, like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, we stand accused by His words. Despite what we say, our actions declare we are not really interested in hearing about God, let alone living that way. So in the face of Jesus’ instructions and invitation, we can go away, confused, and confounded, like Jesus’ accusers, or we can turn, confess our sins and ask to be forgiven.
Our first loyalty is to God. We do not give taxes. We pay them. How does knowing what belongs to God’s determine our response to the government when our government does something that goes against God’s will? God is always more than our church and our government. Our loyalty to our governments is limited and relative. Jesus is not suggesting that there are two kingdoms, the sacred and the secular. There is only one kingdom, to which our governments are ultimately accountable.
The government has stamped images on our currency, but God has stamped his image on our hearts. We must obey our government in its earthly realm but the things that are God’s do not belong to the government and should be given only to God. Human governments are legitimate according to God’s good purposes. If they need taxes to fulfill their calling, we must be prepared to pay them. Just as we are to give to governments what belongs to them, we must give to God what is His, especially our love and obedience.
The coin bears the emperor’s image. It only has value because it is valuable to him. Those who bear the image of God-even those who have been beaten down and robbed of their dignity-possess value that is inherent and can never be diminished. We may live in an occupied land, but Jesus has set us free. One day, when all of the kingdoms and empires of the world fall and every currency has dropped to zero, God will still be God, and we will still be God’s children.
Most of us don’t want to pay taxes, but we want to have money and use it as we wish. We also want to use roads, have the military defend us and enjoy many other benefits of the government, and then turn around and curse those who sponge off the government. We rightly curse the government when it makes wrong or unethical decisions.
We can’t separate our secular and religious lives. God’s presence and actions are not confined to these narrow categories. God wants total allegiance from us because, as the apostle Paul wrote, we have been freely chosen by God to live lives of “faith and love.”
We may feel that we have to choose between the kingdoms of the world and God’s kingdom, but Jesus tells us that we can live in both kingdoms if we let our faith interact with the world. In this way we live in society as good citizens and neighbours, and we fulfill our role in our chosen field. In all we do, and in every interaction with others, we allow God’s reign to be expressed in the world through us.
By calling attention to the different obligations we have, Jesus reminds us of the differences that exist for us as citizens of the state and citizens of heaven. Jesus carefully suggests that we owe the state exactly what is demanded of us. By contrasting this with his statement to give to God what is God’s, Jesus exposed the irony of the Pharisees’ and Herodians’ religious activities. They were more concerned with their own power than they were with honouring God.
In spite of the differences between then and now, we still live in a world where different entities constantly make competing demands on our loyalties. What part of our us-our gifts, our resources, our time and our energy-do we give over and to whom? For example:
- Do we stop to help elderly or handicapped people in the grocery store, or do we quickly move on because we are in a hurry?
- Do we agree to sit on another board or do we put our energies more directly into the congregations we are called to serve and is the former actually a way of doing the latter or not?
- Do we ignore the abuse other people are going through?
- Do we show up for community meetings to speak out either for or against a particular issue even though we may be ridiculed or do we just not go at all because we don’t believe our voices won’t make a difference?
- Do we practice recycling or do we throw our plastic and paper in with the rest of the trash because we can’t be bothered or we’re pressed for time or it seems like it is just too much effort?
- Do we take the time to call our local, provincial or federal representatives and advocate for a just budget that includes proper spending to fight issues such as poverty or the lack of affordable housing, or do we make the excuse that we are too busy and assume that someone else will do it?
How does the way we use our resources reflect the truth that all of us have God’s image stamped on us? When we look at how we use our resources, what do we see? Are we using them to do God’s work in our world? Are we living in Him and for Him, or is He a very minimal part of our lives?
In what ways can our worship be more aligned to God’s values? The place of worship is to be kept wide open for the poor, the marginalized and the least to be welcomed in, but do we really include them? Do we make them feel welcome? Do we value the number of worshippers in pews over our impact on the local community? Do we measure the financial wealth of our churches rather than the level of sacrificial service we offer? Do we make decisions about the choices of music based on what is popular on the radio or on who wrote the music? Do we seek to be comforted and encouraged in our quest for worldly success, influence, and material objects rather than be challenged to give up these things for the sake of eternal values?
Jesus is not just talking about where to locate loyalty. He is suggesting that loyalty tends to be accompanied by hope. Our loyalties to things in our lives-whether political figures, teachers, spouses, or friends-are deeply intertwined with hope. We are loyal to a political party because we hope it can make certain changes. We are loyal to certain authoritative figures such as teachers because we hope we will learn something. We are loyal to friends because we hope, in part, that they will be loyal to us in return. We are loyal to spouses because we have hopes for companionship and future partnership. We are able to have hope not because of a blind naivete but because we have experienced something that makes that hope possible.
Jesus not only models the life of giving everything to God, but He also makes it possible for us to do the same. Because He trusted in God’s love and care, He willingly gave up all that He had and all that He was. He emptied Himself, humbled Himself, and became obedient to the point of death on the cross. Through the Holy Spirit, we have been forgiven and healed. We have been offered new life. By the dwelling of the Spirit within us, we have the power to live as Jesus did, to walk in God’s way. Like Jesus, we can trust in God’s love and care and freely give to God ourselves, our time and our possessions for use in the world that God loves and cares for.
If we are sincere in our desire to be Christ’s disciples, our answer to the question “Whose image is this?” should be Jesus Christ. All of us are made in God’s image. His image is carved into our very souls and in our very breath because we are created with the very breath of God. We are to give to God what is His, including our very lives.
Jesus calls on us to be engaged with everyone around us-to truly interact and become involved in the lives of people we know and meet, so that we may become part of their lives as a new community in Christ. This means risk. It will take time that we might not have. We will be vulnerable in our relationships. Will God be present in our lives? The answer is “yes’” along with much more good news than we can ever expect.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1320-1321)
- “The Pharisees Plot Against Jesus.” Retrieved from www.Sermons4Kids.com
- The New Testament Commentary: Vol. 1-Matthew and Mark. Part of Wordsearch 12 Bible software package.
- Augsburger, M.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 24: Matthew (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1982, p.18)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, 29th Sunday (A).” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org
- The Rev. David F. Sellery, “Gotcha.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Scott Peterson, “Matthew 22:15-22.” Retrieved from email@example.com.
- The Rev. Dr. Ruth Hamilton, “Whose Coin Is It?” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Erick J. Thompson, “Commentary on Matthew 22;15-22.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3450
- The Rev. Janet Hunt, “Giving to God the Things That Are (Already) God’s.” Retrieved from www.dancingwiththeword.com/giving-to-god-the-things-that-are-already-gods/
- Karoline Lewis, “Having Hope.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=3361
- Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary, Pentecost 20, October 18, 2020.” Retrieved from https://www.patheos.com
- Sam Keves, “Nothing is Really Caesar’s.” Retrieved from https://livingchurch.org
- Rev. Taylor Meador Fuerst, “Rabbit Trick.” Retrieved from https://day1.or